Research firm BIA/Kelsey reports that 97% of consumers use online media to shop locally. If you’re a multi-location business, this means it’s more important than ever to be visible to Web users in all your business locations. This column tells you how to crush it.
Based on my own daily searches, it’s clear to me that many local businesses (especially brick-and-mortar multi-location businesses) are not optimized for local search marketing. If you’re a business with multiple store locations, with a dealership network, or with multiple state or national branch offices, there’s a good chance you don’t have 100% local coverage in the areas you service. If you’re operating below 100% coverage, you have what marketers call “a Local Market Opportunity.”
Many large enterprise businesses tend to conduct their online operations separately from their in-store counterparts and are thus missing out on the synergies for driving additional in-store foot traffic and online conversions from their digital store locator/finder.
This results in a lost opportunity cost — and because it’s hidden from management’s view, it’s often not acknowledged or dealt with. I’ve noticed in my research that the bigger the company (e.g., Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, RadioShack, Macy’s, Coach, Payless Shoes, PacSun, Michael’s, CPK, Papa John’s, etc.), the larger the hidden loss and local market opportunity.
Stakeholders in charge of large multi-location businesses often remain blind to the revenue growth opportunities available. They continue to operate as if they’re doing fine and nothing has changed with the Internet and user behavior in the last 2-3 years. It’s a remarkable phenomenon.
Local business listings with reviews, map directions, photo images, etc., are currently being displayed on top of organic search listings, making it both desirable and important for each individual business location to be found through local searches on all the major search engines. For instance, if a national brand is missing 10% of its 4,000 store locations in cities with physical locations, 400 stores go unrepresented. There’s a cost there — and a market opportunity. Even for a smaller chain with just 50 stores, having 5 stores unrepresented is unnecessarily leaving money on the table.
It’s also worth noting that consumers have been choosing local search results over organic and paid search results. Sixty-one percent (61%) of online searchers considered local search results to be more relevant, 58 percent considered them more trustworthy and only 10 percent of online searchers considered paid search results relevant (5th Annual 15miles/LocalEze Local Search Usage Study ).
First, you have to identify your local market opportunity. When your individual stores, dealerships or offices can’t be found on the first page of search results for their strategic keywords in the cities where they’re located, shoppers searching in those cities won’t find them on desktops, smartphones and tablets. Thus, it’s important to get a sense of your local market coverage.
Identifying your local market opportunity can be labor-intensive. The process is as follows and the result for a multi-location women’s clothing retailer is shown below:
Once you’ve identified your local market opportunity, you will have a much better understanding of the lost opportunity you’re facing. Again, without 100% digital coverage in all cities and business locations, you’re leaving money on the table — probably a lot of it.
Even if you think your brand is optimized for local search in Google+ Local, Yahoo! Local, and the Bing Business Portal, it is likely you are not as fully optimized as you can be. Rendering your business data consistently across all devices gives you maximum optimization.
Desktop, smartphone and tablet data delivered to users and to search engines must be accurate for each location and display your relevant business information (NAP, business hours, promotions, etc.) consistently across all devices for each and every one of your locations.
Beef up your listings with as much data as you can provide — directions, payments accepted, localized description, categories, images, local coupons, photos, social network links and links to individual store pages can really make your listing stand out. I call it good data fidelity. This data — when accurate, current and consistent across locations — helps search engines deliver optimum results to user queries. And search engines live or die by delivering a good user experience through accurate results.
Additional business data you must control and optimize are your unmanaged URLs (unclaimed pages). Unclaimed pages occur when online directories like SuperPages and YellowPages index and publish business pages for your business without your knowledge (through scraping the Web or by purchasing business data that is outdated).
Once these pages are published, Google may create a business page from this data — and until you claim it, it’s floating on the Web with your name on it with data that may not be accurate or current. This likely means the correct category for your business has not been selected, your keywords have not been targeted, and other information may be inaccurate as it was obtained from outdated, unreliable sources. You must claim your listings on all online directories and maintain them for all your business locations as changes occur.
Almost all the data feeds provided by clients and vendors to Information Services, IYPs and Local Maps are not enhanced for the local search engines. You must be able to optimize and update data feeds daily or weekly with accurate, current location data changes, new store info, business hours, holiday hours, etc.
The process of local map optimization involves direct management and optimization of the three major search engine map programs. Google+ pages and Bing Business Portal Maps use bulk feeds, whereas Yahoo! Local pages uses a manual feed.
Optimization of these feeds is an essential component to the bigger picture of local search optimization. It’s important to understand that providing a vendor with the basic location data requested by the engines is not enough. There are several very important fields within the data feed that must be optimized and kept updated: categories, descriptions, images, coupons, phone number, links to store page, links to mobile page, etc.
Your entire local search optimization effort is at risk when your brand is not fully optimized for all locations in IYP listings. Optimization includes location data changes, new store openings, store closings or moves to new locations, business hours changes, holiday hours, etc. This is all essential data to be kept current and fed to IYPs as search engines cross-verify their data with IYP data — when the data matches, it becomes trusted verified data, resulting in better rankings.
Your brand must optimize for Local Search Information Service Listings, or your data may not be consistent for all locations. Hint: fee-based annual subscriptions with one or more of the top three information services — LocalEze, InfoGroup and Acxiom — will provide your basic business data to IYPs, search engines and GPS. However, you must enhance and optimize your local business data first. Get busy if you want 100% coverage for all stores in all cities.
Remember, 97% percent of consumers use online media to shop locally. Consumers are using search engines, smartphones and tablets to find information about your local businesses brand on demand. A fully optimized store locator/finder for desktops and mobile devices has proven to drive incremental increases in online traffic and in-store foot traffic.
Discovery and automation is the key to making the changes necessary for successful and complete Local Search optimization. The three steps above provide a roadmap for multi-location businesses to achieve maximum profitability: determine your percentage of coverage, make sure your data is accurate and consistent across all devices, and update your business data with search engines and IYPs periodically. The key is to centrally manage everything from one dashboard.